Oh SNAP, I’m hungry!


Sara Newquist

I’m a poor college student and I’ve heard all of the complaints about food stamps, how people abuse the system, how the federal government is wasting money – the usual kinds of things people say when they don’t actually know what they’re talking about. I decided to try it myself: I would live on the same allotment of food as a participant in SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Actually, it’s Tim Strait’s fault.

After Strait, assistant professor of the School of Business, asked my organizational behavior class to attempt the “SNAP Challenge” this semester, I decided to take it on and report on my experience as the project manager of the Exponent. In order to complete the challenge, participants must live off of the funds a person receiving aid from the SNAP is allotted for one week.

For some reason, I thought living on $28.45 worth of food a week would be a snap.

According to the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, there are approximately 775,000 people in Wisconsin who receive aid from SNAP, which was known as the Food Stamp Program until 2008. This program allots each individual an average of $126 for food purchases per month on an Electronic Benefit Card—this comes out to a total of $4.06 per day.

I honestly did not think purchasing groceries while doing the SNAP Challenge would be much different from my average weekly grocery shopping—I’m on a college student budget so I buy the cheapest food and produce I can anyways.

I decided to only purchase food from local Platteville stores: 12 Baskets, a discount grocery store, and Driftless Market, an organic grocery store. It should be noted that 12 Baskets accepts EBCs, and Driftless Market has an ATM that can withdraw money from an EB account.

While shopping, I had to account for my busy lifestyle so the majority of food I bought was microwavable or non-perishable, including ramen noodles, chips and salsa, popcorn and soup. After quickly using up my budget, I looked at the plethora of food in front of me and was surprised by the large amount in front of me.

It wasn’t much different than my normal college student diet, and I had survived that for the past four-and-a-half years. Another seven days of the same diet for the SNAP Challenge would be a breeze, right?


What I had not accounted for were the times I would not be in Platteville and only had microwavable food, or the times my friends would want to go out to eat. It was embarrassing to not be able to afford the same lifestyle my friends, who also consider themselves poor college students, could. Saying, “no” to my friends, or asking them to cover me for one meal, made me feel inferior and ashamed.

In the end, I only made it through four days of the SNAP Challenge. After a few days I noticed that I became very lethargic, lost motivation and my brain felt foggy. The high-sodium, high-carb diet I was on made me feel bloated and gave me such bad stomach cramps I had to leave work early. I was completely uncomfortable and hungry, and I could tell my body was desperately craving a fruit or a vegetable.

I never realized how much I took for granted; the simple cup of coffee I get a few mornings a week at the Pioneer Perk in the Markee Pioneer Student Center for $1.95, or the $6.49 10-piece Chicken McNuggets meal I never hesitated to have with a friend at McDonald’s. As a college student, I am on a budget, like many others, and it is not always easy to afford to do all the things I wish to, like go out to eat—but I realized I am not poor.

People use SNAP so they can feed themselves and their families. On the USDA FNS website it is noted that, “according to the Census Bureau, SNAP lifted 5 million Americans…out of poverty in 2012.”

I urge anyone who believes people receiving SNAP aid are being given unnecessary, free money, to attempt the SNAP Challenge—the results may surprise you.

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